Russell Crowe Savors Success:
By Candice Hughes
Associated Press Writer (May 3, 2000)
ROME (AP) - Years ago, when Russell Crowe was an aspiring young rock singer, he wrote a song called "I Wanna Be Like Marlon Brando." These days, he's happy to be Russell Crowe. Only five years after landing his first Hollywood role, he is one of the hottest - and busiest - actors around.
So busy, in fact, that when he was offered the lead in Ridley Scott's new movie "Gladiator" he ignored it. He was too absorbed in the role he was creating for "The Insider" at the time, a role that garnered him an Oscar nomination.
"I was ignoring it because I was working," Crowe said during a visit to Rome. "The two things weren't coming together in my head."
He ended up taking "Gladiator," a $100 million epic of honor and glory in ancient Rome that opens Friday (May 5), at the urging of "Insider" director Michael Mann.
Passing up a chance to work with Scott would be crazy, Mann told Crowe during one of the two-hour-plus makeup sessions that helped transform the 36-year-old actor into the paunchy, middle-aged Big Tobacco whistleblower he was playing in "The Insider."
Crazy Crowe's not. He took the part.
The whole project seems improbable at first glance. A gladiator movie in this day and age? But it works. The filmmakers have created a gorgeously detailed ancient world, one that is savage and civilized at the same time.
The kind of single-minded focus and hard work that kept Crowe from leaping at a juicy role like "Gladiator" is the key to his success. Colleagues say he approaches each role with fierce intensity.
"You know how they say an actor is the custodian of his role? Russell, well, Russell is the bodyguard of his character," said "Gladiator" producer Douglas Wick. "And he's on duty 24 hours a day!"
Crowe's intensity and commitment to his character led to some clashes with the equally forceful Scott, whose credits include "Blade Runner, "Alien" and "Thelma and Louise."
"He would kill for his character," Wick said. "And Ridley would kill for the movie. So you have two very willful people who are sometimes in disagreement."
Crowe and Scott both speak well of each other now ("a great artist, a Dutch master," Crowe says of Scott. "He's worth it," the director says of Crowe.) and insist their clashes proved creative at day's end and made the movie better.
In "Gladiator," Crowe plays the hero of the tale, the Roman general Maximus who is betrayed and sold into slavery as a gladiator.
On the brutal battlefield of the Colosseum, recreated for the film with sets and computer imaging, Maximus transcends disgrace and becomes a hero once again.
Crowe said the written "Meditations" of emperor Marcus Aurelius, played in the film by Richard Harris, served as "a touchstone for who Max was."
"When I discovered the book," he said, "it was like one of those 'Eureka!' moments."
At first blush, Crowe doesn't seem like the kind of guy who sits around with tomes of Stoic philosophy written nearly 2,000 years ago.
Born in New Zealand, raised in Australia, Crowe lives on a 560-acre ranch north of Sydney. He rides horses and punches cows to relax.
But Crowe has the true actor's gift of delving into a character, of creating such a complete inner reality that he can convey a lifetime with just a glance or a gesture on film.
He also has the chameleon's gift of transforming himself physically. For "The Insider," he put on around 50 pounds and - seemingly - 20 years. As Maximus, he is absolutely believable as a grizzled general who personally leads his Roman legions into ferocious hand-to-hand combat with the barbarian hordes.
The real-life Crowe is a sleek, trim, tanned fellow who doesn't look a day over his 36 years. His speech is blunt, sprinkled with Aussie-isms like "mate" and "bloke" and the kind of earthy Anglo-Saxon expressions family newspaper don't print.
Crowe says he always knew he wanted to be a performer, and he grew up around the movie business. His grandfather was a cinematographer and his parents were film set caterers. He was a child extra and landed a part in an Australian TV series when he was just 6.
For a while, Crowe thought he wanted to be a rock star; he still writes songs and plays guitar in an Australian band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts. He also tried his hand at theater, doing 415 performances as Dr. Frank N. Furter in "The Rocky Horror Show."
Crowe landed his first film role in 1990 in Australia and his first Hollywood role ("The Quick and the Dead," a gunfighter film produced by Sharon Stone) in 1995. The big breakthrough was two years later, in the critically acclaimed "L.A. Confidential."
He is now shooting his 22nd film, "Proof of Life," a kidnap thriller with Meg Ryan, and has a Depression-era drama directed by Jodie Foster, "Flora Plum," lined up.
Success, he says, is sweet. And a lot of work.
"I wanted to work with the best actors I possibly could. I wanted to do the greatest work I possibly could," he said. "And I can do that because I've kept focused. I've done what I set out to achieve."
From whistle-blower to gladiator:
Russell Crowe is back in fighting shape and reveling in his role in Gladiator
By Jamie Portman
The Ottawa Citizen (April 28, 2000)
BEVERLY HILLS, California -- It's obvious as soon as Russell Crowe enters the hotel suite that he's in a foul mood.
He glares unhappily at the circle of print journalists waiting to talk to him about his new movie, Gladiator. It's with visible reluctance that he pulls back a chair and sits down at the interview table.
''Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!'' is his way of greeting us. Then Crowe explains why he would prefer to be somewhere else this morning -- preferably several thousand kilometres away in his native Australia. It turns out that this is his third morning talking to the press about the film -- and he's fed up with being asked the same questions.
So what question would he like that he hasn't been asked?
''You could ask if I'd like to leave!'' he growls with a wicked grin.
''This is the absolute worst part of the business. It's no reflection on any of you folks. It's just a mind-numbingly inhuman experience being the centre of a press junket. It's . .. ridiculous. There's got to be a better way of doing it.''
It turns out that Crowe has spent the previous two days being subjected to a barrage of television interviews. He decided to keep count and ended up doing 70. ''It was an assembly line and at the end they were dropping people from the list and that, of course, was my fault. I'd been blabbing all day, and it seems I didn't blab fast enough.'' Then he grins again. ''So here I am busting my guts with you.''
Crowe's good mood is starting to return. For one thing, he's done with the process of having to confront a new TV interviewer every 10 minutes. Instead, he's here for a good half hour dealing with the print press, which he says he prefers because he can give more thoughtful answers.
Furthermore, he gets around to admitting that he does feel passionately about Gladiator, which arrives in theatres next Friday, because this movie about the declining days of the Roman Empire represents a return to the kind of movie he loved as a youngster -- the old-fashioned epic.
But the rebel in him still surfaces. He talks about one DreamWorks studio executive who objected to the fact that he was playing soccer, off hours during shooting, on the grounds that if he was injured he would force a halt to the production.
''I like to have some level of control,'' Crowe snorts. ''You tend to know what's best for yourself. I thought it was a rather ridiculous statement for him to have made. He was calling soccer a dangerous game, when in the movie I'd been wrestling tigers and driving guys out of the way of charging chariots. In one scene I had to gallop down a hill with 500 horsemen at breakneck speed. I had to jump through a ring of fire. And this executive thought playing a game of soccer would be dangerous?''
The disdain in Crowe's voice is palpable, particularly when he starts listing the injuries he suffered during the filming of Gladiator. ''I cracked a bone in my foot. I got a little fracture in my hip. Both my bicep tendons popped out -- luckily, at different times, so I still had one arm I could use.'' Crowe shrugs: ''It's the nature of doing these kinds of things. ... I love these things, which are quite dangerous to do. They may look simple, but galloping down a hill, for example -- horses won't do it by themselves unless you tell them to do it.''
Then he admits there was one moment that did scare him.
''I actually had one hell of an experience,'' he admits. It occurred during a battle scene in a forest, in which a row of flame pots had been set up. ''You felt we were using more napalm than Apocalypse Now. One of the flame pots had fallen over and nobody noticed, so when they said 'Action!' and pushed the button to start the fires, my horse got a jet of fire right up his behind, and he didn't like it very much and started going backwards down the hill.
''He had blinkers on, I had a helmet on, we couldn't see behind us. He backed into a tree and then another tree and a branch pierced my cheek, going all the way through.''
Having told this grisly tale with some gusto, Crowe then proceeds to make one thing clear: he was still not sorry to have accepted this film. For one thing, it would be a change of pace after his Oscar-nominated performance in The Insider as a pudgy, middle-aged research scientist who blows the whistle on the tobacco industry. But there was also the subject matter. ''I loved these epics as a kid. Listen mate, the sort of movie I love is the one where when it's over, I'm saying -- no, no give me another five minutes.'' Finally there was the fact that Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma and Louise, Black Rain) would be directing.
''Ridley's reputation as a director is that no matter how difficult the story he's telling, he will finish on time and on budget. He's also a very straight talker, and so am I. If you're going to take a leap of faith like this movie, then these are the people to do it with.''
Both Crowe and Scott say there hasn't been a movie like Gladiator for four decades. It's a throwback to the days when epic entertainments like Ben Hur, Lawrence Of Arabia and Spartacus were important presences on the movie landscape. But Crowe also argues that although Gladiator provides more than its share of blazing excitement, it also has a story with genuine intelligence and emotional resonance.
He plays Maximus, a great Roman general, who is set to assume the mantle of power from the dying Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), only to fall victim to the scheming of the jealous Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), a petulant youth who considers himself the legitimate heir. Maximus's family is murdered by Commodus and he is forced into slavery and trained as a gladiator and forced to engage in battles to the death in the arena. But he remains consumed by a mission -- to avenge the murder of his wife and son and kill the new emperor.
Scott employed five camera crews for some of the more epic scenes. ''He worked like one of the great conductors,'' Crowe says approvingly. But the actor's concern was always the narrative. ''That was the difficult thing -- finding a story that people hadn't seen before, a story that would emotionally connect them to the story. I went to a preview the other night and there were people weeping at what was supposed to be a blockbuster action movie. That was a beautiful thing.''
By the end of his session with print journalists, Crowe wants to stay. ''Give us a few more minutes,'' he says, waving a publicist away. ''This is going well.'' He wants to talk for a moment about what he'll be doing once he completes doing press for Gladiator. It's back to his farm in Australia. ''I have 460 acres, 270 Angus cows, a bunch of horses, dogs, chickens, snakes, spiders, platypuses, wallabies, iguanas.'' After finishing The Insider, he retreated to the farm to toughen up for Gladiator and shed the 50 pounds he'd put on for the earlier film.
And how did he lose the weight? ''Putting up fencing and chasing cows.''
Copyright 2000 Southam Inc.
The following is translated from a travel diary written by the Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. He wrote it during his tour of the United States to promote his movie "All About My Mother" and to attend various award ceremonies, including The National Board of Review in New York, the L.A. Film Critics Awards and the Golden Globes; he met up with Russell at each of them. Pedro mentions Russell in three passages of the article, from "Il Venerdě di Repubblica," 24th March 2000. (Special thanks to Fiore for the translation!)
The National Board of Review
"They also award a prize to Russell Crowe for The Insider. The Aussie is a nice provocative guy. On the stand he lights a cigarette, but I don't know if it is a provocation [because of the film's subject matter] or only shyness. A first-class actor, it doesn't matter what he does on the stand when he receives the award."
LA Critics Awards:
"The Aussie Russell Crowe is awarded again as Best Actor [again for The Insider]. Russell performs a verbal and gestural number different from the one of the previous night, but I only understand the last words: Thank you. He's impulsive; it seems that in Australia all the people are like that, innocent savages.
". . . Besides my cheek I think there's something in the accent of a Spanish who speaks English that the Americans like alot. And there's something . . . in Penelope Cruz [who stars in Pedro's film] that makes Russell Crowe mad. We find him on the terrace, before leaving the hotel surrounded by friends and beers. He calls me by name. I don't lose a single second to reach him. We shake hands and we congratulate each other. "His shameless bull-glance passes through my body and fixes on Penelope, who is talking to Agustin [Pedro's brother] and Michael. I call her to introduce her to him. Penelope has a very Spanish look, she has put her hair in a discreet chignon. This hairstyle brings out the beautiful features of her face, eyes, nose, the big mouth and an inner quietness that nobody knows where it comes from. She treats with confidence and refinement Mr. Crowe, who assaults without dissimulation from the first moment. I decide that it is better if I go back to our hotel. Penelope says that she will come with me, Agustin and Michael. Russell promises that he'll come to see us and he doesn't lie.
"The Sunset Marquis bar opens at night and is transformed into one of the coolest places in town. When we arrive at the hotel we find Russell with two people that are completely forgotten as soon as he sees us. We have a beer with him, [to not be rude], and we let him go back to the two people he was with. There was no match between Spain and Australia and I'm glad."
Golden Globe Awards:
"We attended the Sony-Columbia party . . . We saw Russell Crowe hand in hand with Jodie Foster. We greeted each other, but it was as if he didn't recognise us."
Hollywood correspondent Ivor Davies finds out why the Aussie star throws his weight into all his roles.
Russell Crowe, hot contender for an Oscar, can't wait to go to work for his pal Jodie Foster. "She's a great director and also a magnificent woman," says the 35-year-old Aussie actor. After the Sydney Olympics, Russell will team up with Claire Danes to star in Jodie's bizarre new film, Flora Plum.
"I play a circus freak, half man, half beast. I'll look pretty ghastly," Russell says. "All you'll see is the slits of my eyes. I'll look even worse than when I come home from a late night on the town."
Oscar-winner Jodie turned down the chance to reprise her role as FBI agent Clarice Starling in the big-budget sequel to The Silence Of The Lambs so she could direct this film and work with the Australian-based star, who calls his northern NSW farm home.
The pair have become good friends - he took her to the Golden Globe Awards in January and they recently went shopping for clothes and toys for Jodie's 20-month-old son Charles.
But before he can begin working for her, Russell has to wind up shooting Proof Of Life, in which he plays a hostage negotiator, opposite Meg Ryan.
"I've spent the last nine days hanging out of a helicopter over Poland," Russell says. "And after the Oscars, we're off to Equador to shoot the rest of the film."
These days Russell is riding high in Hollywood. He's now in the Mel Gibson/Tom Cruise category following his starring role in the spectacular new costume epic Gladiator, which opens in May.
In the $160-million movie, directed by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Thelma & Louise), he plays the Roman general Maximus. He is virtually the whole movie, playing the war hero who leads the Romans to great victories and then is unjustly sentenced to death. He is reprieved, but is forced to become a gladiator, a human killing machine. He then wrecks revenge on the evil, demented new emperor of Rome, Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix.
His role in Gladiator, as the military genius who leads his troops to the frontlines is a far cry from the part he played in The Insider, which has brought him a Best Actor nomination in this year's Oscar race.
In the controversial film he was a paunchy, fiftysomething American tobacco industry executive who blew the whistle on his company's deceitful practices. But to play General Maximus he had to trim off 23kg and become a lean, mean fighting machine.
In between puffs of a cigarette, he says it wasn't hard to shed the weight.
"I could have waddled around in the alleyways for years saying 'Excuse me....wanna hire a fat guy?' But I got down to it. Gladiator forced me to do it. Diet is secondary. It's being physically active."
"I live on a working farm. I've got 230 hectares, 270 angus cows and hundreds of kilometres of fencing to do. It feels like it, anyway. So I just got back to my normal life. But also I did weights and some roadwork."
He says he liked his Roman general. "He's a good bloke and we see how much capacity he has for love."
"But on the other side of the coin, he's a brute, a beast, a trained killer. When Maximus goes to the dust he cleaves your arm off."
Director Ridley Scott says Russell is now in the very big time, noting, "He's so strong - he has that burn that the really big stars have."
That burn sometimes explodes, particularly if Russell takes to drink. It has rebounded to hurt the fiery actor. When he shot Mystery, Alaska in Alberta, Canada, in 1998, he got involved in a bar-room brawl. Back home in Australia he was more recently involved in a spot of similar bother.
"I'm not going to go there," he says when the subject of the latest episode comes up. "It's still in the legal stages."
But on the set of Gladiator, co-stars Joaquin Phoenix (brother of the late River Phoenix) and Danish actress Connie Nielsen say he was an absolute pussycat, a delight to work with.
"He was a great guy and, no, we didn't date," says the statuesque Connie.
His co-stars add that during the most intense period of shooting, when they had a day off, Russell hired yachts and took them for outings to remote lagoons where they could all relax.
So now that he's facing a big change in his career and fortunes, how has his life changed?
"I'm the king of frequent flyers," he says. "But I don't get to spend enough time with the people I love, or in the place I love. I've been an actor for a long time and there's a certain level of the gypsy in the job."
"It's the change of perspective and geography which makes my life interesting. Otherwise it would just be the same series of cow bums in the cattle yard."
But he seems to be taking the idea of being at the top of international movie stardom very much in his stride.
"It's funny, some people accuse me of being arrogant because they say I expect success," he reflects. "I never really expect success. But it doesn't surprise me when it comes, because I know how much work I put into what I do. And look at the great people I get to work with. So I have no complaints."
And how does he rate his Oscar chances? The usually bombastic Russell turns suddenly quiet and humble.
"I'm very priviledged. A lot of people have had very long and stellar careers and never been acknowledged by their peers in the way I have. So I don't have a humorous or cynical viewpoint on it. "
"I'm very thankful."
(Thanks to Katrina!)
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